I’ve noticed that my socialist1 friends who are “feeling the Bern”, of whom I have a few, have an overly—and dangerously—optimistic view of government. In truth, there is nothing wrong with an awareness of social responsibility or the desire to alert and encourage others to fulfill their share of the responsibility. There is, of course, harm in the socialist method of fulfilling that responsibility—namely, taking money from innocent third parties (“taxation” or, more accurately, theft) and giving it to those in need in the form of welfare payments, housing and healthcare subsidies, “free” education, etc.—but let’s set that aside for a moment, since government will “tax” some and give to others anyway, whether it’s socialist or capitalist. Assuming that plunder were morally justifiable, so long as the proceeds were given to those matching some reasonable definition of “poor”, socialists would still be foolishly optimistic to use government to accomplish this.
I say foolish and optimistic because, my socialist friends, you have bought into the lie that our government is “of the people, by the people, for the people” and can therefore be used to the people’s benefit. Governments have never been for the people, and ours is no different.2 Government is, always has been, and always will be, a tool for the rich and powerful to benefit at the expense of the people. It may have been more overt in centuries past, when kings or aristocrats or white land-owners openly oppressed the people, but just because it’s covert now doesn’t mean it isn’t exactly the same—politically connected corporate and banking elite are simply our new kings. On some level you know this, otherwise there wouldn’t have been such movements as Occupy Wall Street, yet you fail to understand that since they control the government, there is absolutely no way for you to ever use government against them.
There has never been one government victory of the people over this elite in our nation’s entire history. Our beloved founders, who “freed” us from the Crown, were nearly all elitists whose subsequent presidential administrations were nearly 100% managed by elite land- and business-owners and lawyers.3 Legendary Lincoln’s cabinet and other high-level appointments were 92.3% elite (and heavily railroad-oriented—the “big oil” of his day), and “Anti-monopoly” Teddy Roosevelt appointed 88.9% elites4. The only notable outliers are Andrew Johnson, who was impeached; Wilson, whose creation of the income tax and the Federal Reserve were quickly appropriated by (if not conceived outright by) the banking elite and have resulted in a miserably heavy tax and inflation burden upon the people; FDR/Truman, whose vast expansion of Federal power “for the people” and for the war effort provided much more power for subsequent administrations (*cough* Eisenhower) to abuse on behalf of their corporate sponsors, not to mention that FDR’s family background made him an elite in his own right; and Kennedy, who was assassinated. None of this is to mention the wealth and connectedness of Congress, whose “check and balance” against the president severely hinders any real pro-people reforms he may have in mind.
FDR’s legacy should give Sandersian socialists particular pause. Although his New Deal may be regarded as a victory for oppressed people, in reality it just continued a pattern of explosive growth of government which soon falls into the hands of the oppressors. Social Security, for example, created an enormous pot of wealth easily “borrowed against” (i.e. raided for irresponsible government largess) by future administrations and congresses, leaving future generations (i.e. us) left to pick up the pieces of a bankrupted system. Maybe Bernie Sanders is a great guy, maybe he means well, maybe “billionaires can’t buy Bernie”, and maybe “free” college could provide a helping hand to a few million kids over the next four or even eight years. But what happens after that? What happens when universities realize they can raise tuition boundlessly since Bernie’s taxpayers would now be legally required to foot the bill?5 What happens when whatever growth in government he causes falls firmly back into the hands of the corporate elite who will control the next administration (or the latter half of his)?
Government only exists by the consent of the governed, but that means very little when the governed believe they are dependent on government for survival. Do you honestly think the kings of old or the Hitlers of the last century maintained an iron grip on their people because they were simply that strong? Of course not—the people consented, and eagerly. “Without the king, who will protect us from other invading kings?” “Without Hitler, who will give us economic prosperity and low unemployment?” “Without social programs, who will provide for us during retirement and give us enough education to get a good job6?” Don’t be so optimistic as to consent to more government in the hopes that this time will finally be different, because it won’t be. If you create additional powers and revenue streams for the government, they will be co-opted and used against you by those who really run the government: not you, the people, but the rich and powerful. Your only real hope is less government—a lot less.
1. I mentioned in an earlier blog post that it’s important to understand what is meant by the terms to be used in any discussion. Without this understanding, it is easy for our opponents to sidestep a valid point by arguing against a straw man whose definition differs greatly from our own (as in the case of so-called “educated” individuals who will debate whether America is a democracy or a republic when you are trying to pros and cons of the democratic process). Worse still, it is easy for our manipulators to confuse us by giving something good (social responsibility) the same name (“socialism”) as something proven to be terrible (Marxism). That being said, here by socialism I more refer to social democracy (what Bernie Sanders calls “democratic socialism” and his supporters often call simply “socialism”).
2. Granted, with each “revolution” in form comes a little more apparent freedom and a slight broadening of the ruling class, but I put the word in quotes because there has never been a true revolution that turned the system on its head as we have been led to believe. The Magna Carta only allowed wealthy landowners to rule with the kings, the US Constitution only added the democratic process as a layer of abstraction to obfuscate the kings (now called bankers and corporate executives), and the Emancipation Proclamation and the Nineteenth Amendment only allowed blacks and women to participate in that ineffective token process. Nothing has ever actually eliminated kings because nothing has ever actually eliminated government—the tool by which kings maintain their existence.
5. This report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York shows that this is already exactly what happens thanks to Federal student loan subsidy. If government-subsidized college is what has made college tuition unaffordable, how can even more subsidy make it affordable?